As my 100,000+ gamerscore can attest, I’m a fairly hardcore Xbox Live gamer. Imagine my delight when I was told I got to test out the Windows Phone 7, in-built with Live integration! I won’t lie to you; I made a weird, excited — and mostly squeaky — noise.
I’ve said in the past that I’m reviewing the HTC Mozart by comparing it to my iPhone 4. I’ve also noted that Xbox Live integration might just be the feature that gets the Mozart over the line first. So, has it lived up to my expectations?
Before getting into the games side of things (that’s a whole other series of posts!), we must first look at the Xbox Live application itself. Conveniently located as a Start screen tile, the Xbox client immediately loads the Windows Live ID that was entered as the WP7 device’s primary account upon first use.
Here’s where HUGE problems popped up.
On my HTC Mozart, I’ve entered my USA-based Windows Live ID of ‘Stevivor’ as the phone’s primary ID; this then gives me access to my primary Xbox gamertag. This has screwed up my billing on the WP7 Marketplace, as I’m in Australia and using a North American account — I don’t have the option to charge applications to my Telstra SIM like others can. Moreover, it’s a good thing I somehow snuck on my Australian-based AMEX card to that Live ID, or I wouldn’t be able to purchase a single game – or any application for that matter. If I instead entered by Australian-based Live ID to use here in the country and on the phone, I’d instantly lose access to my primary gamertag – and what fun would that be, unlocking achievements and earning gamerscore on a gamertag I care nothing about? You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
To me, the allure of WP7 was Xbox Live functionality. Once again, Microsoft’s rigid, country-based ID structure has severely damaged what should have been an extremely enjoyable experience. If you’re not having the same billing problems like I am, what if you use more than one Windows Live ID? If you use a business-based ID to keep track of your contacts, email, and calendar, and another for Xbox, you’re going to have problems.
In short: why isn’t there the option to change the Xbox Live gamertag that’s associated with your phone? Or, why doesn’t everyone have access to the Xbox Account Migration tool that some countries do (for more information, see here: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/Press/archive/2010/1012-AcctMigrationFaq)?
That aside, the application itself is fairly attractive. You begin on the ‘Collection’ screen of the hub, where you have instant access to games you’ve already purchased, plus the ability to buy more through the Marketplace. The problem I continually have is that I can’t seem to buy games from the Xbox Live app itself – I always encounter a generic purchasing error. This is easily overcome by purchasing directly from the Marketplace hub, but I’m left to wonder why that is. Games can also be touched-and-held to allow for the option to pin them to your WP7 Start screen, which makes it a lot faster to access your favourite games.
The next screen along the hub is ‘Spotlight’, which I detest. Microsoft, you’ve already peddled your wares using the ‘Collection’ screen — get me to my OWN content, and on the double!
Moving along, you actually get to your own gamertag and avatar with the ‘Xbox Live’ screen. This shows a static image of your Live avatar (with your gold or silver hue, depending on your level of Xbox Live subscription), plus your gamertag, real name, gamerscore, and most recent unlocked achievement. This is literally the information I used to bookmark on my iPhone to get easy access to using Safari. The upside of the app is that it’s a much faster way to get to your information, and looks a lot better than content on a mobile browser screen.
The last screen along is ‘Requests’, which shows you if you have any Live friend requests or game requests to action. The sore point here is that the requests seem to be quite delayed – I had friend requests that I could access on my Xbox console or Xbox.com that didn’t show up in WP7 for quite a long time. The other thing is that when you click on a request to accept it, you’re taken to a mobile browser page to actually accept. There goes the full integration.
Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be turn-based functionality in games yet meaning the WP7 Xbox Live experience isn’t nearly as full as it is on a console (this is based on a lack of support inside Hexic Rush). I’m assuming that the feature will be supported in future games or via updates.
Xbox Live Extras
Bluntly, if you use Xbox Live on your WP7 handset, you should download Xbox Live Extras before doing anything else. In fact, the two applications are so perfect together that I don’t understand why they didn’t come bundled; or better yet, why they didn’t make up just one app.
Launched as a game from inside Xbox Live, the Extras app makes use of Silverlight to animate your avatar. Poking your little dude or dudette on the ‘Profile’ screen will activate several animations, good and bad. When you scroll to the ‘Achievements’ screen, your avatar will also react to achievement descriptions depending on whether or not you have earned them. It’s quite cute, doesn’t take long to load up, and it adds to the rich Xbox Live experience that you may be used to from a console.
Above: The Xbox Live application avatar (left), and the Xbox Live extras version (right).
Next, you can access your fellow gamers via the ‘Friends’ screen. Selecting a friend also shows their animated avatar; a nice touch indeed. The search function is amazing here, especially if you’re close to hitting the 100 friend limit on Live as I am.
You can either swipe to the ‘Messages’ screen or access it via a link from the ‘Profile’ screen. It shows all text-based messages you’ve received via console, Xbox.com, or that other gamers have sent you using the same interface on their WP7 handsets. The downside is that friend requests do not appear on this interface and have to be accessed from the root Xbox Live application (and therefore, a mobile browser window).
The long and short of it is that the Xbox Live integration inside WP7 is close to perfect. Ideally, Microsoft should use the interface of Xbox Live Extras and add an extra screen called ‘Games’ – that way, we’d have the sleek, animated interface of Extras with the ability to launch and buy games. In that scenario, Microsoft could easily do away with the base Xbox Live application and just use Extras as the primary one.
As to whether or not Xbox Live is the deciding factor in my decision to switch to the HTC Mozart, I’d have to say no. This is largely due to the fact that I suffer from the same country-based billing issues on the WP7 operating system that I do with all other Microsoft platforms. It’s a complete and utter disgrace. Microsoft desperately needs to realise that its users move from country to country; simply abandoning one Live ID for another is not a viable solution.
Billing problems aside (or if you don’t have them), the application is great – so get into it!
UPDATE: Here’s a quick linkdump if you’re in the same billing nightmare as I am: